Detractors often cry foul over Bert's failure to dominate relative to his peers in any one season, claiming it as justification for his exclusion from the Hall of Fame; never earning more than 20 wins in a year and never winning a Cy Young, for example, do not edify a career worthy of Cooperstown, the argument goes. While those facts are indubitable, such an interpretation of them fails to hearken the notion that criteria used for judging a career differ from those used to evaluate a season. The Baseball Writers Association of America, the cabal responsible for selecting Hall of Fame members and various other award recipients, undoubtedly comprehends this distinction. It is partially why they furnish separate honors for those who excel over the course of several months (Cy Young, Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year) and for those who do so over the course of several years (Hall of Fame admission). Accomplishing the latter is precisely what Bert has done; productive longevity, not sporadic flashiness, defines his career.
As a whole, Bert's body of work reflects this with few blemishes. His most prominent accomplishments have been recited by proponents ad nauseum: 3,701 strikeouts, a 3.31 ERA, his 273 wins being the most for a non-member of the Hall of Fame with the lone exception of Tommy John, etc. Many decry such lofty sums as the product of longevity, attributing them to 22 seasons spent as a "stat collector." However, Bert's numbers on relative measures such as K/BB and WHIP refute this, reflecting consistent performance over a time period in which most pitchers would suffer from significant decline. Bert owns a 2.33 BB/9, a 1.198 WHIP, and a 2.8 K/BB, all of which document both his tremendous control and his capacity to strike out opposing hitters. Compared to six peers from his era that have been elected to the Hall of Fame (displayed in the table below), Bert appears to hold his own.
Even more so than in the regular season, Bert was absolutely dominant in October. Though he played on many terrible teams that had little hope of reaching the postseason, Bert was electric when the opportunity arose. He amassed a 5-1 record and a 2.47 ERA in three trips to the postseason, guiding two different clubs to World Series titles. When it mattered most, Bert was at his best.
Bert was not only effective, but abiding as well. Representing a bygone age in which pitchers regularly threw deep into the ballgame, 242 of his 685 starts were complete games (35.3%). Those 242 complete games are more than all but seven pitchers have tossed since 1955. An astounding 60 of these were shutouts; this is nearly as many as Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens have accumulated combined, and more than all but eight members of the Hall of Fame have earned. It is unsurprising, then, that Bert averaged 7.2 innings per game, or that he averaged 225.9 innings per season during his career. In the truest sense of the word, Bert was a workhorse.
Despite these achievements, between 25.8% and 85.9% of the Baseball Writers Association of America deemed him unbefitting for the Hall of Fame in each of his 13 years of eligibility. This highlights both the subjectivity of the selection process and the admittedly uneasy task of evaluating a set of players across generations and with disparate attributes. Even within a set of starting pitchers from a given time period, individuals are often assessed on a variety of qualities ranging from their propensity to win games to their endurance, and rarely are metrics used that combine these multiple facets in a quantitative fashion. Analysis of Hall of Fame candidates often boils down to comparing apples to oranges.
Developing an index that weighs a player's various statistics according to their valued merit can help remedy this issue. The index below calculates a single score for Bert and the six Hall of Famers discussed above based on several measures falling into the following categories: performance, winning, endurance, longevity, postseason play, and honors. Categories and their component variables are designed to represent different attributes of a pitcher's career; different weights can be assigned to each category according to their relative importance to the overall quality of a pitcher's career. The index score is scaled from 0 to 1, with individual scores being normalized by the highest score of the group; if the index generates .956 as the highest raw score, for example, it is assigned a value of 1 and all other scores are adjusted proportionally. Raw values for each component variable are normalized in this same manner. The index method ensures that observations across this group of pitchers are gauged using the same instrument; it compares apples to apples.
Of course, what criteria qualify as important and how they are weighted are subjective and influence the overall scores produced by the index. A balanced index that weighs winning and performance equally at .35/1 and weighs all other categories at .08/1 shows Bert with a score of .902; similar to the comparison group used and 6th best among them. Indices that place an emphasis on winning and performance respectively yield scores of .906 and .926, 6th and 5th best among the comparison group. An index valuing endurance, longevity, and honors puts Bert at 4th among his Hall of Fame peers. In any configuration, Bert's career performance is at least comparable to, and in some cases better than that of Hall of Fame pitchers from the same generation.
The glimmer of hope for Bert's final two years of eligibility is that a paradigm shift in how baseball writers assess pitching performance appears to be underway. The embrace of sabermetrics by a number of writers may work towards Bert's favor in many ways, but the diminished emphasis on a pitcher's role in the game decision may be the most significant. As evinced by Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez winning the two most recent American League Cy Young Awards with records of 16-8 and 13-12, respectively, the Baseball Writers Association of America appears increasingly willing to disregard a pitcher's wins and losses in light of their performance as gauged by alternative metrics. There are fewer pitchers for whom this would benefit more than Bert, who toiled for many seasons on woefully bad teams that provided him with little run support. He found himself on the losing end of 99 quality starts during his career, which is the 5th most since 1952. In addition, 79 of Bert's quality starts ended in a no-decision. In spite of his teams' anemic offensive production, he managed to win 287 games, falling just 13 short of a benchmark that many concede would have guaranteed him election into the Hall of Fame had he reached it. Given the context, being 13 wins deficient of 300 is a laudable feat, not a liability.
The gradual change of heart among baseball writers also likely explains why Bert's presence on Hall of Fame ballots has risen steadily from a nadir of 14.1% in 1999. In 2010, Bert garnered support on 74.2% of ballots, falling just five votes shy of the 75% threshold for admission. Should recent trends continue, electors should at least satisfice Bert's deserved inclusion in Cooperstown, and the mounting chorus of those clamoring "Bert belongs" will at last be placated.